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Government 'making progress' on Smart Freight System prep ahead of Brexit transition deadline

The government appears to be heeding warnings about the readiness of the Smart Freight border IT system, as the January 2021 Brexit transition deadline looms large

The UK government is making some progress on ensuring the IT systems needed to ensure cross-border supply chains can continue to function smoothly post-Brexit, it is claimed.

The past few weeks have seen stakeholders from across the logistics, supply chain and freight transport sector publicly query the preparedness of the border IT systems required to ensure trade between the European Union and Great Britain can continue unencumbered once the Brexit transition period ends at the start of January 2021.

This culminated in a letter being sent to Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove on 2 September 2020, signed by the Road Haulage Association (RHA) and several other stakeholders, demanding an “urgent roundtable meeting” to air their collective concerns on this matter.

As detailed in the letter, one of the core areas of concern flagged in the letter is the readiness of several IT systems that will be used to manage border crossings, including the Smart Freight traffic management system.

As reported by Computer Weekly in early September 2020, similar concerns were raised in a leaked memo from the Cabinet Office’s Border and Protocol Delivery Group, which stated that some of the IT systems needed for an operational border to function were still under development.

This document also made reference to the “critical gaps” in the preparedness of the technology that haulage firms and freight forwarders will need to help them negotiate the border, once the UK extricates itself from the EU at the end of 2020.

Trade body Logistics UK, whose members include organisations working in the road, rail, sea and aviation industries, featured among the signatories on the RHA letter.

Speaking at the Institute for Government’s UK border after Brexit online panel event on 11 September 2020, Alex Vietch, head of public policy at Logistics UK, expanded on the sector’s specific concerns about the readiness of the government’s Smart Freight traffic management control system.

The web-based application is, he said, “primarily aimed at reducing traffic jams on the M20 and M2 motorways in Kent”, and it does this by providing lorry drivers with an online portal they can use to check if they have the correct paperwork needed to enter the European Union.

Out of the four border-focused IT systems under the government’s control, Smart Freight is the one furthest away from completion.  

“There are four IT systems under the UK government control that our members will have to learn to use, know and love. Three of them are going okay – [in that] two are ready to use, and one is not ready yet, but it will be phased in. And one of them is behind, and that is the system called the Smart Freight,” he said.

“We’ve been saying privately for some time that we need this Smart Freight System to be publicly tested much [faster] than they are intending to, and we want to pull that forward.”

And, it seems, the government has begun to heed the industry’s warnings on that point.

“It is a mixed picture – the government is doing a lot… and a lot of the IT is going fine, but the Smart Freight thing we just need [the government] to get a wiggle on. [They] need to hurry up with that one. And I think we see now that things are progressing on that side.”

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